It's 8:39pm on a Sunday evening and the more things change, and the older you get, the more you turn into that grade school kid who didn't do homework all weekend so it's time to cram on Sunday night. It's a Sunday night angst that never really goes away. Try as you might, you still wind up already behind for the week. Go figure.
It's 2:13pm on a Thursday afternoon. My day's essentially over, at least in terms of radio. It was a show full of law enforcement. Griffith police chief Greg Mance talked about why he went to Lake County prosecutor Bernie Carter with possible charges against Griffith and Hammond players from the big on-court melee in February. This is big. A change of policy, police tactics, community acceptance (or non-acceptance). We haven't heard the end of this one. How do you stop the violence in high school sports? Not easy.
Tuesday morning, 9:59am.
Just finished the morning show. Verlie Suggs joined me 6-7:30am and we talked a lot about Griffith police pushing charges on high school athletes for a fight during a basketball game. Tectonic shift. Criminals on the court, felons on the field? Lots of calls. Thanks for that.
I did get a comment for this blog. Here it is from Jason.
perhaps if you ever responded to any comment, be it here, on social media, or through email, you might find a purpose.
..... point well taken, Jason. I'll think about it. Perhaps I just don't fully want to be a part of the ongoing, never-ending flood of blah that drips all day on Facebook and twitter. I don't get it. I do a show for four hours a day and then I'm kind of weary of the constant back and forth, the tug of war. When I'm done, I'm done. And I get the feeling that I gotta change that.
What comes to me is the question of why radio isn't Facebook or Twitter? No shit. As I've mentioned before, I went to the Radio Convergence conference last year (this year's conference takes place this week, and I'm not going). And what I heard was a guy tell me out by the pool - "I've been coming to this conference for 15 years and we still haven't figured out digital." He means that radio guys and gals are still lost when it comes to being an integral part of daily lives.
We do what I call "pedestal" radio.
Pedestal radio is a vertical relationship. Me host, you listener. Me talk, you listen. You call, me decide who gets on and how long. Me get paid, you don't. We put the radio show on a pedestal and everyone else sits on a blanket around it.
Facebook and twitter, on the other hand, are like this mosh pit in front of Sid Vicious. Anything goes. Or you can go sit in the garden out back and have a peaceful soiree with other admirers of fine linen. In a weird way, everyone's equal on Facebook and twitter but not in radio. Me host, you listener. Me post on website, you observe. Somehow we gotta change the vertical relationship in radio to a more horizontal relationship of Facebook, Twitter and social media in general. I don't know how but somehow radio's gotta be more like Facebook and twitter, at least in terms of the equality of the relationship.
I know that I'm not explaining "pedestal radio" all that well. But over time maybe I can. Another problem with radio is that it's mostly by appointment. Shows are on at certain times, and even podcasts get posted at certain times. Facebook and Twitter really don't have appointments, except maybe concert announcements and such. It's anything goes at any time. And that's crucial. Waiting in line at the dentist? Check your Facebook and interact with a high school buddy hiking the Himalayas. Radio has no place in that communication line.
How to attack the inherent weaknesses in "appointment radio?" Again, I don't have a solution. Not yet. But I think about it a lot. What if my show didn't necessarily have an exact time to come on? Or, more directly, what if I came on the air at random times? Why not? It's my wife's station and to be direct, we make most of our money during my show in the morning. Almost all of it. So what harm would it do if I just turned on the mic at any time of the day?
In line at Jewel - start talking in to my phone and have it go straight on the air.
Having a couple cold ones at a rooftop charity fundraiser on a Friday afternoon - go straight on the air, maybe during a top of the hour break or a short interruption to a network program.
There's an idea in here that is half-baked, I know. But I get the feeling that if we turn the thinking upside down, then maybe we in radio can be more part of people's lives. No shit.
Pedestal radio - Me talk, you listen.
Appointment radio - Me talk at five, you listen at five.
Where does radio have any role in a world in which you can pick up your phone and start interacting with people all over the world in an instant, get up-to-the-second news, learn gossip, look at photos, watch videos, even listen to audio? Somehow, for radio, there's got to be a better way. I'm sure of it.
So there, Jason. I hope that's a response to your comment about me never responding. You are right. I know it. And I'm looking for a solution that somehow involves that 400-foot tower out back of Smith Chevrolet.
It's been a long time since I wrote to you in this blog and I do apologize for that. The best I can offer is that 1.) if you help run a family-owned radio station, you work 60 hours a week on it. That's really the only way that it moves forward. And at the end of the day you really don't have the time to laze about and write about nothing.
And 2.) I don't know where this blog is headed. I really do want to chronicle the long, sweet goodbye of local radio. That's an overriding theme for me. I grew up during the heavy decline and near death of the local steel industry. I traded in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade during the heyday and then during the beginning of the end, so I know what it's like when a way of communicating and doing business dies. I just wish I had taken more notes, written a blog... something. It died slowly and I started to feel it in the late 90s and by 2004 I was certain that the end was near. It was. Instead of sticking around for the goodbye hugs and drinks, I left trading completely. My wife and I bought a radio station (and a newspaper, if you remember correctly).
But it is not only the slow and steady decline of radio that interests me. It's what happens next, which is where I'm most confused. Alexis and I just took my daughter on a vacation for her college graduation. We flew to Ft. Lauderdale and then drove to Key West for a few days. That's the cheapest way to do it, by the way. And true to form for a good portion of the vacation I thought about radio. And every time we went somewhere I listened for how the music or other audio was being delivered. Only a few times did I hear traditional local radio.
One was in the workout room of the Bahia Mar Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. The trainer who led rich wives through stretching and medicine ball exercises liked to listen to the Miami-based smart aleck guys on the hip music station. While I was in there one morning the jocks called a guy live and outed him as having had a gay affair with some other dude.
"I don't know who this is but I'm going to sue your station for libel and slander." Sounded staged. But it did have the dramatic shock effect that got the head trainer of the workout room at Bahia Mar Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to listen to their FM station.
The other time I heard local radio was on a boat. Alexis and I and Jeanie and her boyfriend Daniel took a "Danger EcoCruise" out into the gulf. Snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and a whole bunch of talk about the animals and plants and coral and you get the picture. I'm still a little sore from pumping on the sea kayak into a 30 mile an hour wind for the better part of a mile. Also got some really good GoPro footage of blue and yellow and pink fish and some pretty neat coral configurations and I will use that in an upcoming project. You'll see.
On the way back in to port, the captain put on the radio. While we had been out filming and kayaking and such, Alexis and a couple of other women and what looked like a couple of gay men stayed behind on the boat. They wanted what the captain called "make out" music, which my wife actually described to me as a Jack Johnson mix on internet radio. Captain Evan wanted something with a little more kick, so he put the country station out of Miami on the speakers for the ride in. Traditional local radio brought about by a boat captain singing along to modern Kenny Chesney while he twirled the wheel. He wore a ton of white cream on his nose and a salt-worn Atlanta Braves hat.
Oh, there was a third time that I heard some traditional local radio. That was at the pool at the La Concha hotel in Key West. For most of the day it was an all-ages internet-fed mix of different music that could play while you read the latest Grisham novel or paged through a People magazine. And drank pina coladas. But near the end of the day the bartender had to wash all the glasses, clean all the counters, flush the lines, pick up empties and so forth. The La Concha has ridiculously small rooms, so while Alexis prepped for dinner I went down to the pool and just kinda sat there, thinking about radio.
The pool slowly emptied of sunburnt insurance salesmen from Philly and sunburnt Germans, Israelis, Pakistanis and foreigners from Miami. So I got to sit there with an empty pool and... Mix 104.9 on the radio. Since most everyone one had left, the bartender had switched to his favorite radio station - the local high-energy rock and pop station. I kinda liked it. A little too much Taylor Swift but the station imaging is solid and they don't over talk on the music.
So there. Three times I heard traditional radio on the trip. We didn't even listen to traditional radio in the rented Ford Fusion. After some initial struggle, Jeanie synched her iPhone to the car stereo and we listened to either Pandora or to serial podcasts. If you don't know what serial podcasts are, then you don't know the future of radio.
To circle back. I really do apologize for not writing this blog for a while. It still boils down to that I am confused by at least two things - the purpose of this blog and the future of radio. I don't have a clue about either.
As to why write this blog.... I get this feeling that if I just write enough we'll approach a purpose. Or maybe if I write enough words they'll all jumble together to make us both realize that there isn't any real purpose but just some reasonable entertainment in my of observations, opinions, callers, listeners, sponsors, guests, producers, fans (yes, fans) and America in general. An Alexander de Tocqueville who lives here and isn't French.
But as to chronicling the long, sweet goodbye of traditional radio.... I'm a little confused about that too. We all know the numbers. Traditional radio loses about 6% total listening hours a year. And according to some recent hints from the Radio Convergence people, some stations are losing as much as 30-40% of their revenue, year over year, as buyers switch money to digital. I get all of that and am preparing for the changeover also... but I'm still quite confused about what's really happening. And when I sit down to write to you about what's happening in my life and my area and my radio, it's all happening so fast that I feel as if a big wave on Ft. Lauderdale Beach sweeps me off my feet. As I twirl around in the primordial saltiness as if in a washing machine, I lose my pen. That's the best I can explain it.
I run radio stations and a streaming video network in Hammond, Indiana, and write this blog.